The Founding of the Town of Griffith


Gabriel Hernandez

The town of Griffith has undergone many changes to become the sprawling town with many exciting sites that it is today. Established as an unincorporated town in Northwest Indiana in the year 1891, Griffith was named by Dwiggins brothers, Jay and Elmer. The brothers saw the opportunity to make Griffith bigger than ever before by opening the brokerage firm, J.R. Willard and Co. to provide funds for other entrepreneurs to start businesses. Jay and Elmer wanted to develop the town into a railroad factory suburb.

Before the Dwiggins brothers arrived in Northwest Indiana, farmers from around the United States settled on the land that is now Griffith after the U.S. government passed the Swamp Reclamation Act in 1852, which allowed settlers to buy swampland in the Northwest Indiana area for $1.25 per acre. However, living in Northwest Indiana wasn’t as easy as the settlers initially thought, as much of the water-soaked land had to be drained before homes could be built. This would prevent large numbers of people to settle in Northwest Indiana until the Grand Trunk Railway company assigned E.P. Griffith, a renowned railroad engineer, to map out the area in the 1870’s. He would go on to help found the Grand Trunk Western Railroad and the land would become known as Griffith’s Section.

The Grand Trunk Railroad would continue to lead northeast through Northern Indiana and into Michigan and Canada. The railroad attracted traveling families and businessmen from Chicago and surrounding areas to Northwest Indiana for the next 20 years. Among these people were the Dwiggins Brothers. Jay and Elmer originally planned to rename Griffith’s Section to Dwiggin’s Junction but ultimately decided to shorten the name to Griffith. Unfortunately, challenging times were to follow as J.R. Willard and Co went bankrupt due to the Depression of 1893 that caused more than 15,000 thousand businesses in the United States to shut down and caused many residents to move out of town. Residents who stayed in Griffith would have to face changing from a more agricultural setting to having more urban jobs as technology during the early 20th century advanced.

Although the closing of the Dwiggins Brother’s banking firm dealt Griffith a serious economic blow, continued immigration and job opportunities from the Indiana’s Pipeline Co allowed Griffith to recover and would allow it to officially become an incorporated town, part of Calumet Township. Events such as the Rock’n Rail Festival and the Friday Farmer’s Market remind the town of Griffith of it’s roots as an agricultural and railroad town.